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WKU Football: Hilltoppers vs. FAU — Statistical Preview

Photo credit: Robert Mayer | USA TODAY Sports

Much like the Old Dominion game, the Hilltoppers’ game against the Florida Atlantic Owls was expected to mean something different before the season began.

Reality has an interesting effect on our perspective, doesn’t it?

In late August, if you would have told me in two months, WKU would have been scrapping from the beginning to find a way to stay in the race in the East, I would have been skeptical. Throw in Old Dominion and MTSU already out of the race, Marshall looking like the favorite and FAU looking like the most explosive team in the conference, and I would have just belly laughed.

However, that’s where we stand. We press forward this week with Matt’s Stats, and FAU seriously poses a legitimate threat to the Hilltoppers.

Vegas seems to think highly of FAU as well, favoring the Owls on the road by a touchdown over the Hilltoppers at the time of publication.

Overall Conference USA Perspective

What does this game mean? The Hilltoppers need to find yet another way to stay in the race. The bottom line is if they win the rest of their conference games, they win the East Division, clinching yet another appearance in the Conference USA Championship Game. FAU is one of two teams in Conference USA left undefeated in conference play (Marshall). The Owls could virtually clinch the East Division with wins at WKU (Saturday) and at home against Marshall (Nov. 3).

No team in Conference USA has been dominant in 2017; each team has looked vulnerable, yet most teams have shown life. Nearly halfway through conference play, 10 teams are within one game of the lead in their respective divisions.

Overall

WKU’s offense has significantly improved over the past two games, but despite a significant increase in production, WKU still boasts pedestrian offensive numbers, averaging 26.9 points per game and 381.6 total yards per game. The passing game finally looks up to snuff, tallying 300 or more yards three of the past four games. However, the rushing attack has been last or second to last in the country the entire season in yards per game (81) and yards per rush (2.5).

The Topper defense continues to be above average despite significant injuries up front and on the back end. They boast a top 25 efficiency against the pass, while being respectable against the run (allowing 160.9 yards per game). There are a few recent concerns, however. Of late, WKU is giving up 250 yards a game on the ground while WKU’s third down defense is ranked 98th in the country.

FAU’s offense is one of 2017’s most lethal. The Owls crack the top 25 in points (39.1) total yards (485.4) and rushing yards (285.6) per game. However, their passing offense doesn’t even garner 200 yards per game, they are 69th on third down conversions (39 percent), and are 118th in the country in time of possession as a result.

Defensively, FAU makes plays. They have forced 16 turnovers, and are outscoring opponents 58–7 in points off of takeaways in 2017. Despite FAU’s clear ability to make big plays, the Owls are 96th in the country in total defense and 67th in scoring defense.

Keys to the Game

Third and Fourth Down Conversions

WKU is excellent offensively on third down (45%), mainly because Mike White, Deon Yelder and the rest of the passing attack do a good job bailing out the paltry Hilltopper running game. On fourth down, however, WKU has converted less than 50%, good for 94th in the country. Defensively, WKU gives up over 40% third and fourth down conversions.

FAU is just not good on third and fourth down on either side of the ball. Consequently, they are one of the worst teams in the country in time of possession.

Combing through these stats throughout the week, this stands out as a pivotal statistic for a variety of reasons. This will determine total yards, Time of Possession, and a couple of possessions will be stalled or continued. Watch out for big conversions late in the game.

WKU Passing Offense vs. FAU Rushing Offense

AND

WKU Rushing Game vs. FAU Passing Game

The first set highlights extreme strengths for each team. The second showcases blaring weaknesses.

Here’s the question here: Which one of these four is most out of character on Saturday? For example, if WKU’s horrible rushing offense gains 200 yards on the ground, surely WKU should win that game. If FAU runs for 350 yards, one would think Florida Atlantic wins that one going away. These four stats will determine whether this is a blowout or a close game in either direction. WKU seems to be most in need of an extraordinary performance.

Time of Possession

Neither team wins time of possession on a regular basis. This seems simple, but if one offense has the ball, the other doesn’t. Both offenses have hit their stride in recent weeks. Which offensive unit can keep the other off the field, and perhaps more importantly, which defense can slow down the other team’s offense? A few stops are going to ultimately affect the final tally.

Turnovers

In a game with two mysterious teams, turnovers could be the ultimate truth serum. FAU has forced a ton of turnovers, and they have taken care of the ball offensively. WKU has neither forced many turnovers, nor turned it over themselves.

An interesting tidbit here: Both teams have combined to fumble the ball 21 times, but have only yielded six actual giveaways on the season. WKU’s defense has forced 11 fumbles, but have only been able to recover two all season.

Prediction

The Owls have been increasingly impressive in 2017. After a slow start, FAU has exploded in its past two games, scoring at least 58 points in both games. WKU has also improved in its past two games, finally showing potential offensively, scoring at least 35 in each game.

If healthy, I honestly think WKU would beat FAU most of the time, but WKU is beat up defensively in the secondary and on the defensive line. To me, it’s a debate between WKU’s experience and FAU’s explosiveness.

WKU seems to find ways to win despite a bad running game and a beat up defense. I think FAU is a pretender, and WKU is going to find a way despite being outmatched to survive in a thriller, 43–42.

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